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400 Maoists kill 22 security men in Chhattisgarh; Amit Shah cuts short Assam tour

SUALKUCHI/RAIPUR: Union home minister Amit Shah today vowed to go ruthlessly against the Naxalites after a group of about 400 Maoists ambushed security personnel deployed for a special operation, leading to the killing of at least 22 personnel and injuries to 32 others yesterday.

Shah who was campaigning for the BJP-led alliance for the Assam assembly elections in Lower Assam, cut short his visit and flew back to New Delhi without attending BJP’s last mega rally in Assam for Jalukbari candidate Himanta Biswa Sarma in Sualkuchi.

Landing at Sualkuchi for a while, Shah, who was accompanied by DoNER minister Jitendra Singh, interacted with the media and said: “I don’t want say anything about number of casualties because search operations are still on. But, there have been casualties on both sides. Some of our jawans have been martyred. My condolences to the jawans and I would like to tell their families and the nation that their sacrifices will not go in vain.

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“This has made our war against the Naxalites even more ruthless, stronger, determined and we will take it to a conclusion.”

Official sources said, a contingent of about 1,500 jawans drawn from CRPF’s specialised jungle warfare unit CoBRA, some teams from its regular battalions, a unit of its Bastariya battalion, Chhattisgarh Police affiliated District Reserve Guard (DRG) and others had launched a search and destroy operation along the border of Bijapur-Sukma district around noon after they got inputs of some Maoists’ presence in the area.

At least 400 Naxals, led by most wanted Maoist commander and leader of the so-called ‘People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) battalion No 1’ – Hidma — and his associate Sujatha, are suspected to be behind the ambush that took place in an area that is a stronghold of the rebels due to the difficult terrain, forests and less security forces camps.

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The Maoists rained bullets from light machine guns (LMGs) and used low-intensity improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the attack that went on till evening.

The sources said the Maoists carried their dead, estimated to be about 10-12, on tractor trolleys.

The total approved strength of security forces personnel for the operation was 790 and the rest were taken as auxiliary and support elements for the long haul operation, the sources said.

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The Maoists surrounded the security personnel from three sides and a heavy gun-battle ensued in the jungles which are devoid of any foliage at present.

The operation was stated to be monitored by two inspector general (IG) rank officers of the state police and the CRPF from Jagdalpur in Bastar.

Although rescue helicopters were rushed to evacuate the casualties around 2 pm, they could not land there till about 5 pm, the sources said. One of the deceased has been identified as Bablu Rabha of Assam.

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Of the 22 fatalities, the CRPF has lost eight men out of which seven are CoBRA commandos, while one personnel is from the Bastariya battalion. A CRPF inspector was still stated to be missing.

While a maximum security personnel were killed due to bullet injuries, one is stated to have fainted and died due to dehydration or other issues.

About two dozen sophisticated assault weapons of the slain security personnel are also stated to have been looted by the Naxals.

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